The Beard Award-winning chef behind Café Houston Annie will be retiring soon

One of Houston’s most successful chefs will be transitioning to a new, less active phase in his career. Robert del Grande He will be stepping down from his day-to-day position as Executive Chef and Partner at Annie’s Café & Bar And Turner To spend more time with his family.

Going forward, Del Grande will hold the title of Chef Emeritus and continue in an advisory role with Berg Hospitality Group, the local company that acquired the restaurant formerly known as Café Annie in 2019. And Turner in the coming weeks, according to a rep. Jose Valencia will continue in his role as culinary chef for both concepts.

“I have truly enjoyed working with the Berg Hospitality Group team to combine our strengths and create two concepts that I am most proud of to finish my career,” Del Grande said in a statement. He added, “While leaving my day job, I will remain in my new role and continue to direct my staff and ensure the success of The Annie Café & Bar and Turner’s.”

Del Grande has a Ph.D. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Riverside, and became a chef when he moved to Houston in 1981 and started working at the original Annie’s Café. He is credited as one of the pioneers of Southwestern cuisine, a culinary movement in the 1980s that made clear the radical idea at the time that Texan ingredients and Mexican-inspired cooking techniques could be worthy of a fine-dining restaurant. Dishes like rabbit enchiladas, crab tostada, and Del Grande’s signature coffee ground beef have become Houston classics.

“His food drew national attention to a city once seen as a space of mediocre Tex-Mex, barbecue and baskets of fried shrimp; indeed, del Grande saw opportunity and innovation in those beloved foods,” Houston Chronicle Food editor Greg Morago wrote in 2016.

This pioneering approach earned Del Grande plaudits, including the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 1992. He was the only Houston chef to win the award until Chris Shepherd’s victory in 2014. And he remains an important figure in gastronomy. In the Houston scene, as evidenced by his recent appearance as a guest judge on top chef.

Along with his business partner Lonnie Schiller, Del Grande has opened a number of successful restaurants, including casual fast food Cafe Express and Taco Milagro. They go on to operate two restaurants on Discovery Green: The Grove and The Lake House. (Full disclosure: CultureMap was founded by Schiller in 2009.)

“It’s been a wild ride since I arrived in Houston in 1981 chasing my now-wife, Mimi,” said Del Grande. “I am so grateful to everyone I met along the way and to those who supported me through our various projects. I am excited for this next chapter in my life and can’t wait to be my grandfather and spend more time with my family.”

Del Grande worked alongside Berg Hospitality founder and CEO Ben Berg to transform Café Annie into Annie’s Café and Bar. The new restaurant has retained some of the classic Del Grande dishes, but also introduced new tastes and plates updated for the Instagram era. In 2020, the duo opened the Turner, a retro-inspired luxury dinner club in a space created by The Annie’s renovations.

“I have had the privilege of working with Robert del Grande for the past three years. He is one of the most knowledgeable chefs I know, and in the past three years I have learned more from him than I could ever have imagined,” Berg said. “I will always regard him as a friend and mentor, and we are grateful that he will continue to serve as Honorary Chef and serve as a sounding board for new menus, off-site events, and more.”

In addition to The Annie Café and Turner’s, Berg Hospitality operates restaurants such as B&B Butchers, BB Lemon, and Trattoria Sofia. Later this year, BB Italia, an Italian-American restaurant, will open in Sugar Land Town Square, and two restaurants in the mixed-use Autry Park development: Annabelle’s, an all-day dining restaurant, and Turner’s Cut, a luxury steakhouse inspired by Turner.

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